Genesis 15:1–6; 16:1–6
Abram had been following God obediently for several years. God’s promises of being a great nation and a source of blessing to all the peoples on earth had not yet been realized. After Abram’s experiences described in Genesis 14 of the rescue of Lot and encounter with the mysterious Melchizedek, God renews Abram’s faith by a vision.
Abram’s vision contains a command and a promise. God commands Abram to not be afraid. The context of this command is Abram’s encounter with the king of Sodom and the lack of a male heir. God reiterates His promises to Abram to reassure the patriarch. God promises a protection to Abram with the imagery of being Abram’s personal shield as well as the promise of a great reward or recompense. Abram views the promise of a reward as having an heir. In one sense Abram had an elementary faith.
In his faith struggle, he thought his servant Eliezer of Damascus would be his heir. God speaks to Abram and corrects his faulty assumption. Abram would have an heir, so many heirs that they could not be counted. “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 twice. In Romans 4:22, Paul cites it as a description of salvation. Paul notes that Abram was fully convinced; therefore, God credited righteousness to Abram’s account.
Humans tend to hurry up and wait. Abram and Sarai expected an immediate fulfillment of God’s promise. Sarai suggests that Abram have a child with her slave Hagar — a name meaning “stranger.” While shocking to Christians today, this practice was acceptable to their generation but not part of God’s original plan. Hagar was a stranger to the promises of God as someone outside the covenant promise. Ultimately, Abram chooses a worldly step that produces havoc within the family. Hagar was an Egyptian and apparently not a believer in Yahweh.
Abram and Sarai face two tests — a test from God regarding offspring as well as a test of faith regarding how God will fulfill the promise of an heir. The couple opt for a human solution to a problem rather than waiting upon God. As a result, problems arise between Sarai and Hagar as well as Sarai and Abram. Acceptable social practice was not a good solution.
Sarai’s proposal is shocking to us, but it was acceptable in the culture in which Abram and Sarai lived. Rather than taking responsibility for her plan, Sarai blames Abram for the failure of her plan and its initiation even though she initiated the plan.
Abram’s response is to return Hagar to Sarai. Even though Sarai gave Hagar to Abram, Saria becomes vindictive and mistreats Hagar. But Hagar does have One to help her. “The angel of the Lord found her” (v. 7).
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida